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The Fast of 17th of Tamuz - Why?


Rabbi David Samson

20 Tammuz 5763
Five reasons are given for the Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz. Four of them are religious, and one, the breach of the walls of Jerusalem, seems to have nothing do with the others. It isn’t like Tisha B’Av when the Temple was destroyed. Why is it listed?
For some of our readers whom may not be familiar with all the five reasons, let’s list the tragedies that occurred on this day: 1. The Tablets with the Ten Commandments were broken. 2. The daily sacrifices were prevented from being brought in the Temple. 3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached leading to the destruction. 4. Apostumus burned the Torah. 5. An idol was erected in the Temple. Since these tragedies took place on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, the day was decreed a fast.[1] Regarding your question why the breach in the walls of Jerusalem is listed with tragedies of a religious nature, the answer is that all of Jerusalem, even its walls are holy. Jerusalem is holy within itself, irrelevant of the Temple. The Mishna teaches that there are 10 levels of ascending holiness in Eretz Yisrael. For instance, Ma'aser Sheni can only be eaten within Jerusalem. Jerusalem is demarcated by the wall surrounding the city. Outside the wall, a lesser lever of holiness exists.[2] In the Laws of Mourning, we learn that a person who sees Jerusalem in a state of destruction has to rend his garments and say, “Zion was a desolate wilderness.” A comparison is made to a father who has passed away. The tearing of one’s garment represents the terrible loss and pain. Here too, one could say that the death of a parent is not something religious, yet a child is commanded to make this tear. It is the same with Jerusalem.[3] A person who sees both the Temple in its destruction and the city in a like state should tear his garments twice. Also, if one sees cities of Judah that have been destroyed, a person has to rend his clothing. Even if he sees two cities, he nevertheless tears his garments only once. But if he sees both a Judean city and Jerusalem in their destruction, he rends twice, once again showing that Jerusalem has an independent status of holiness.[4] Jerusalem is a religious concept in and of itself. It is a Mitzvah to yearn for its salvation and to take a part in its rebuilding, as it says, “Thou shall arise and have mercy upon Zion, for the time to favor her has come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones and embrace the dust thereof.”[5] This means that Jerusalem can only be rebuilt when the Jewish People yearn for it to such an extent that they embrace its fallen stones and dust.[6] Interestingly, the destruction of Jerusalem does not depend on the state of its buildings, but rather who controls it. Even if its buildings are whole, but Greece or Rome reign over the Jewish People there, it is considered destroyed. Even if there are dozens of kosher butchers shops, synagogues, Mikvaot, and Jewish bookstores, we rend our garments if the British rule there.[4] Jerusalem is synonymous with the Kingdom of Israel, and thus with the Kingdom of G-d in the world. G-d’s Kingdom in this world can only be complete when the Jews rule over Jerusalem. A breach in the walls of Jerusalem is thus a breach in the Kingdom of G-d. Rabbi Kook teaches that someone who is alienated from the secrets of Torah doesn’t find anything lacking in Diaspora Judaism, even though he is estranged from the Land of Israel and all the facets of a Jewish national kingdom, like a Jewish government, a Jewish army, a national Jewish anthem, calendar, language, and our eternal capital, Jerusalem.[7] He is content being ruled by gentiles in a foreign, gentile land. To him, a wall in Jerusalem is a wall like any other. May the Almighty forgive all of our sins, repair all of the breaches, and implant in our hearts a burning love and desire for Jerusalem. 1. Rambam, Laws of Fasts, 5:2. 2. Keilim, 1:8. 3. Mishna Berurah, 561:2. 4. Ibid. 5. Psalms, 102:14. 6. The Kuzari, 5:27. | 7. Orot, 1:1.
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